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Faces of the Oyster Festival: October 1, 2010

Two Very Different Paths to Oyster Festival Chair

The fourth of a series on the people who make the Oyster Festival happen.

Ten years ago, the last thing on Paul Rosen’s mind was the East Coast’s largest waterfront festival. “I was entirely caught up in my career,” recalled Mr. Rosen. A self-described city kid, he never even heard of the Oyster Festival.

Growing up in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, where his family owned a toy and juvenile furniture store, Mr. Rosen enjoyed visits from a customer who lived in Manhattan, worked in show business and regaled the staff with behind-the-scenes TV tales. When the furniture store closed in the ’80s, a victim of changing times, that customer placed a few strategic phone calls.

“He opened up a few doors in TV production, and I walked through them,” Mr. Rosen recalled. Over the next two decades Mr. Rosen moved from go-fer to freelance assistant director in demand for commercials, videos and promotional spots.

Clients included companies like Burger King, American Express and Kmart. He did promotion videos for personalities like Rosie O’Donnell and Martha Stewart, and rock stars like Guns ‘N Roses and Billy Joel.

The work was massively detailed, highly demanding and tension-filled. Mr. Rosen thrived on coordinating big egos on tight schedules. He did well, but something was missing.

“Here I was, 40-something and wondering what the purpose of it all was,” he recalled recently from his office in Harbor House, the assisted living facility in Oyster Bay where he directs operations.

He added, “I felt there had to be something more.”

Searching, Mr. Rosen volunteered at an Alzheimer’s facility on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. “I found I enjoyed helping people with memory loss,” he said.

At the facility a paying job opened up. Mr. Rosen applied and was hired, quietly ending a glossy Manhattan career. “I began a new chapter in my life,” he said. “It felt good. Still feels good.”

In 2003 Harbor House recruited him as marketing manager. Mr. Rosen took the job, left Manhattan and moved to Centre Island. “I found a converted carriage house that happened to be vacant,” he said with a smile.

At Harbor House, Mr. Rosen reached out to a number of community organizations, including Rotary. Oyster Bay-East Norwich Superintendent of Schools Dr. Phyllis Harrington, a Rotarian, recruited and sponsored him. [Dr. Harrington shares a show business interest with him.]

Mr. Rosen’s organizational skills, patience and calm demeanor did not escape the notice of Tom Reardon, a Festival founder and long-time event chair. “Tom sucked me in,” Mr. Rosen said with a laugh.

Over the years Mr. Reardon groomed a series of potential successors. One was Mr. Rosen. He put the newcomer in charge of signage in 2005, adding new responsibilities the following years. In 2008 Mr. Reardon made him co-chair.

Mr. Reardon died suddenly at the close of last year’s Festival. Now Mr. Rosen was fully in charge. “I learned an awful lot from Tom,” Mr. Rosen said. “And not just about organizing a festival.”

Kristin Reardon got connected through quite different channels, although inevitably the late Mr. Reardon was involved as well. After graduating from Hartwick College upstate with a degree in history, the young woman returned home to Bayville. There her family owns and operates the Hendrickson Bus company.

“I used to drop by the Oyster Festival,” she recalled. “My dad was always roasting corn in the Lions’ Food Court booth. I ran into so many people I knew growing up.”

She began dating and eventually married Andrew Reardon, one of Tom Reardon’s sons. “Now, Tom had me showing up at 5 a.m. doing grunt work,” she said with a laugh. Then he assigned her the bus shuttle service.

“He knew I knew buses, given the family business,” she said. The shuttle system then in effect had one bus following another along one circuitous route. Ms. Reardon broke the circuit into various smaller routes, with unique pick-ups and drop-offs, reducing ride times and bus congestion.

More recently, Ms. Reardon has contributed to the liaison efforts between Rotary and the Oyster Bay Chamber of Commerce, helping coordinate the chamber’s Audrey Avenue activities with the Rotary’s Festival plans.

“That work has been enjoyable,” she said.

Last year was Tom Reardon’s last Festival, but his daughter-in-law continues the family tradition. “I kind of inherited being festival co-chair,” Ms. Reardon said with a laugh. Now busy mothering two sons, a newborn and a two-year-old, her time window for event organizing is more limited. She makes time however for committee meetings and all the follow-up: letters, permit applications, phone calls and emails.

“Bottom line,” said Mr. Rosen, “is Kristin does what needs doing. I couldn’t do this without her.”

Ms. Reardon thinks no less of her colleague. “Paul makes sure nothing falls between the cracks,” Ms. Reardon said. “He’s easy-going and focused, and it’s a pleasure working with him.”

(The above was submitted by ImageQuest Communications, Oyster Festival promoter.)